Six hundred years ago, Sankardev, an Indian reformer, introduced Sattriya, a dance that evolved and flourished mostly in monasteries along an Indian island in the river Brahmaputra. Now, this rich cultural tradition, barely visible in the West, is under attack from geographical, social and political changes. Sattriya is Madhusmita Bora's heritage. Born and raised in Assam, she grew up to the rhythms of this incredible art form practised routinely at her village prayer house. Growing up in Madhabgaon, an Indian village named after Sattriya creator Sankardev's foremost disciple, she grew up watching her uncles, aunts and neighbors perform in the local festivals and made her debut as a dancer before she turned four. Her father's political leanings made the family assassination targets and she eventually had to leave her hometown and the state. But Sattriya tugged at her heartstrings wherever she went.
Describing her early connections to this tradition, Madhusmita writes, "At an age when young girls are fascinated with dolls and make-up, I began flirting with the rhythms of the drum and cymbals. I was in the vortex of cultural and artistic stimulation. I grew up watching my uncles, aunts and neighbors perform in the local festivals. My pursuit of dance, however, was always punctuated with challenges. When Sattriya was not available to me, I quenched my interest by pursuing Kathak, a classical Indian dance form, and my training in Kathak has helped me understand and appreciate the nuances of Sattriya even more. I renewed my training in Sattriya and I believe my journey has come full circle."
Sattriya has a significant history. Srimanta Sankardev introduced Sattriya dance in Northeast India to propagate his ideas of a classless and equal society. Until the mid-20th Century, Sattriya was confined to and evolved and preserved within monasteries called Sattras, institutions created by Sankardev and built mostly in Majuli, an island on the Brahmaputra river. Severe erosion is now threatening the art form, the monasteries and the island. For centuries, Sattriya remained off-limits to women despite the dance having a defined feminine aspect to it. Madhusmita's project is to tell the story of Majuli, Sattriya and the monasteries, and to build awareness in Philadelphia, dance, Indian and International communities about the dance and the threats it faces. Other goals are to inspire more women to embrace the dance, and to sustain the traditional forms of this art. In recent years, Sattriya has faced dilution because of advocates who are embellishing the art form in order to make it more palatable for a modern audience. Thanks to a 2009 Art and Change grant from the Leeway Foundation, Madhusmita just returned from a trip to Assam and Majuli where she was able to study and to add additional "pure" dances to her repertoire. She shared some of this work at A PFP Artist Salon in March 2010.
Madhusmita Bora has trained under Guru Ram Krishna Talukdar, one of the foremost exponents of Sattriya in India and leading Kathak Guru Janaki Patrik of New York. Madhusmita has performed widely at venues in India and the U.S.A. in platforms such as the Holi festival of colors at the Barpeta Satra and Doulgobinda Temple, India; the Assamese Convention of North America in Washington D.C.; The Dance Festival of India 2009 in Virginia; the ISKCON temple in Mount Airy; and the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in New York City. Her dedication to propagate the art form has been widely recognized by the Indian media. She and her sister-in-law, Prerona Bhuyan, are co-directors of Sattriya Dance Company, a venture with a mission to promote Sattriya on the world stage. (See www.sattriyadancecompany.com). Madhusmita is also a regular blogger for walletpop.com and the India writer for Shopping Centers Today. She's worked at publications such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Indianapolis Star and the St. Petersburg Times. She lives in the Germantown area with her husband, Saurav, and their son Ahan.